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19 January 2006

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Johnny Depp (Edward), Winona Ryder (Kim), Dianne Wiest (Peg), and Anthony Michael Hall (Jim)

Directed by Tim Burton (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory)

IMDB Summary: "A modern day fairy tale which tells the story of Edward, the man created by an inventor who died before finishing his greatest project, leaving Edward with scissors instead of hands. When the local Avon representative calls at the mansion where Edward has been living alone, she takes him home to stay with her family. He has to adapt to the new life, cutting hair and hedges and winning everybody's heart. But life isn't always so sweet..."

I've never liked Winona Ryder. When I hear her name, I have the impression of a 17-year-old boy mooning over her big eyes, authentically valley-girl voice, and petite figure, all the while listening to The Cure for hours on end. (In that impression, the 17-year-old boy looks like my husband.) Years later, some of those men, now grown, wore "Free Winona" t-shirts and made fools of themselves on TV. And I cannot say I've enjoyed her films either: Girl, Interrupted, How to Make an American Quilt, Alien: Resurrection... no thanks. Well, except for Little Women and Heathers, but I enjoyed those because the story and/or cast out-weighed the Winona factor.

In my mind, she is also inexorably linked with Johnny Depp. Both were major teen idols just as I was coming into an age where I noticed such things, with Johnny Depp gracing the cover of my friends' Teen Beat magazines after starring on 21 Jump Street. They dated for years and were once engaged. And my first notice of both came from television trailers for Edward Scissorhands. Alas, I was only thirteen when it was released and years away from any serious interest in film (or the personal mobility and freedom to watch movies in a theater). So this week, I overcame my Winona aversion and traveled back to that scary time called "junior high" in order to catch up on a little cinematic history.

Film studies majors ever since its release must have written papers on Edward Scissorhands, from its existence as a modern fairy tale to the symbolism of the sets, cars, and houses. However, anyone who has written extensively on this film has wasted his or her time. It's as obvious as a volcano. Searching for deep meanings is moot because there are no deep meanings. The story itself is as timeless as any fable from Aesop forward, and as a fable, it is accessible to myriad ages and cultures. The symbolism is obvious and general. No car, house or outfit can be pegged to a particular time period between 1948 and 1990, which adds to its timelessness.

Just as there are very few original fairy tales, with Hans Christian Andersen the only significant Western author of such stories, there can be few original movies based on these ideas. While very charming and, in places, quite funny, Burton's success was not in making deep statements about human nature. His success was in adding his particular interpretation to the lexicon of classic "outsider" tales. The difference is in his stylishly innovative interpretation and in his ability to tell the tale with truth, emotion, and enough pizzazz to hold everyone's attention.

Johnny Depp was a combination of grace, clumsiness, self-assurance, hesitancy, innocence, and anger, all of which he managed with very little dialogue. His character was built from the skeleton out, with Depp's posture and facial expressions telling Edward's story. The film would have felt corny and unbelievable with a less human "freak" at its center. As Elizabeth Perkins said about the man-boy Tom Hanks in Big, "He's a grown-up." The same could be said about Edward. While created by an inventor, Edward was the most "human" character in the film, the credit for which must go to Depp's portrayal.

And Winona annoyed me... again. No helping that, I'm afraid.

Anonymous Pacze Moj said...

I saw this quite a while ago, and the only scene I remember is one of Edward trying to help the little boy (whose name I can't remember) but only cutting his face in the process. In fact, that's one of the images in all of "filmdom" most burned into my mind, which is weird, because the film, as a whole, made no impression on me -- I didn't even remember Winona Ryder was in it.


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